Israeli submarines could have a big nuclear secret

The origin of the Dolphin class dates back to the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Germany agreed to compensate Israel for the development of Iraqi ballistic missiles capable of reaching its territory.

The Dolphin class of Israeli submarines is part of the country’s nuclear deterrence strategy, standing out for their possible nuclear arsenal and advanced features.

A look at Israeli nuclear deterrence strategy and the role of the Dolphins

The Dolphin-class submarines, developed with post-Gulf War assistance from Germany, constitute a critical element in Israel’s nuclear deterrence strategy. These submersibles are presumably equipped with nuclear weapons, providing Israel with a second-strike capability.

The introduction of the INS Drakon will mark the entry of the sixth submarine into the fleet, bolstering the Dolphin II class with cutting-edge technology and a possible vertical launch system.

With more than a quarter century of service, the  Dolphin series is integral to the Jewish state’s deterrence posture. Israel’s policy of nuclear “ambiguity” contrasts with the consensus that these submarines carry nuclear weapons, ensuring a retaliatory capability from the sea. This doctrine has been strengthened in response to Islamist terrorism from  Hamas and threats from Iranian proxies in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

The origin of the Dolphin class dates back to the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Germany agreed to compensate  Israel for the development of Iraqi ballistic missiles capable of reaching its territory. This commitment materialized in the construction of two Dolphin-class submarines, thus strengthening Israel’s nuclear triad with air, sea and land capabilities.

Technical and strategic capabilities of the Dolphin class submarines

The first Dolphin submarines, including the Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan, were delivered in 1999 and 2000, armed with an impressive battery of 533 mm and 650 mm torpedo tubes. Although exact details remain under wraps, it is speculated that its weaponry includes  Triton fiber-optic guided systems, capable of hitting targets more than nine miles away.

The Dolphin II generation, introduced in 2014, saw an increase in payload and is rumored to be adapted to carry nuclear weapons. Germany has maintained an official silence on the specific capabilities of these submarines.

However, the most recent, INS Drakon, stands out for its size and a particularly large sail, suggesting room for advanced missiles and, potentially, a vertical launch system (VLS).

Despite the limitations imposed by its diesel-electric engines, the Dolphin class specializes in regional operations, where its air-independent propulsion (AIP) improves stealth and makes detection difficult. The integration of advanced sonar from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems complements its tactical capabilities, underlining its value in the context of Middle East instability.

Economic and strategic justification for the investment in the Dolphin class

Despite their high cost, Dolphin-class submarines are considered a justifiable investment given the volatile geopolitics of the Middle East. These submersibles not only strengthen Israel’s defensive capabilities but also ensure a credible nuclear deterrent in the face of growing threats.

The introduction of the INS Drakon and the continued evolution of the  Dolphin II series reflect Israel’s commitment to robust maritime defense, underscoring the strategic importance of these assets in its military arsenal.